Review published on September 3, 2017.
Julia Boyd has written what has to be one of the most fascinating books I’ve read using new material from private collections and archives around the world. She also asks the poignant question: without the benefit of hindsight, how do you interpret what’s right in front of your eyes? Clearly not an easy question to answer, but one Julia Boyd sets out to do with Travellers in the Third Reich.
Looking back as we do, it is hard for people today to understand why anyone would want to visit Germany at that time. The Great War was over, the perception was Germany was to blame, the economy was weak and had collapsed, yet people still visited. During the 1930s Germany was a popular destination for British and American tourists, and inspired people such as WH Auden and Christopher Isherwood.
What this book does do is describe what happened in Germany between the wars, and is based entirely on first-hand accounts written by foreign visitors to the country. There is a real sense of what it was actually like to visit the country, both physically and emotionally. As Boyd points out, a large array of celebrities passed through such as Charles Lindbergh, Francis Bacon, Samuel Beckett and David Lloyd George. Add to this list, war veterans, academics, journalists, artists, Olympic athletes and the England football team.
There are also the wonderful descriptions of some of the adventures and encounters some of the travellers had, and as Boyd notes “There was no question that Berlin offered its visitors – especially the Anglo-Saxons – sexual and intellectual adventures unobtainable in their own countries”. It should also be remembered that Rupert Brooke wrote Grantchester in Berlin at this time.
What does come through from the book is that if the British and Americans were relatively popular visitors to Germany, especially in the Weimar years, the French were not. There are also descriptions of President Hindenburg, who was half hidden by a curtain after he had inaugurated Hitler as Chancellor, as he received the plaudits from below while saluting the crowd. There are some wonderful descriptions of that day. Weeks after, an English journalist notes that they were confronted everywhere by election propaganda.
Throughout the book there are excellent portraits of Germany painted by the travellers including the old soldiers, the literary set and those from academia. There are some interesting descriptions in the chapter that deals with Germany as it became an academic wasteland, with the exclusions and the lack of rights for the Jews.
This really is an interesting book. Looking at Germany without the use of hindsight is a challenge, and sometimes makes you want to scream about not being able to see what is right in front of you, to many of the visitors. This will fascinate readers and is well written and well researched and oddly a great read, in spite of the subject matter.
Paul Diggett 5/5
Travellers in the Third Reich by Julia Boyd
Elliott & Thompson 9781783963461 hbk Aug 2017